Should Your Book Club Read A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan?

A rather controversial choice–some members loved it and some did not–A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan was Literary Masters’ selection for November, and the bottom line is: yes, this is an excellent choice for your book club, but you need to have a focused, disciplined discussion to get the most out of this very dense book.  This blog post should help you.

One reason this book is so dense is its structure, and you’ll want to explore that at some length.  In an interview, Egan says she wanted to structure the book like a record album, with an “A” side and a “B” side.  Explore this issue, and quite a bit comes up.  You may want to consider the ‘collection of chapters’ as a type of record album–with some ‘songs’ that you like more than others.  Also, consider how each chapter relates to music in its message, mood, and tone.

Some of the themes of the book are actually expressed through the structure, and this will be illuminated if you really ‘dig deep’ as we do in our LM literary salons.  For example, one theme we discussed was how we are all separate yet connected.  Egan wanted each chapter to be able to stand on its own, which each one does, but taken in the context of all the stories, each chapter takes on that much more resonance and meaning. 

One of the most interesting chapters is the one done as a power-point presentation.  Now, your book club will want to talk about what this entire book is saying about technology and its effect on us individually and as a society, but this chapter particularly brings up the idea of the pause and what that signifies.  Now think about all the chapters–what does the “pause” mean?  This brings up all sorts of different and wonderful interpretations!

I found one of the main themes of the book to be redemption.  Each of us has an “A” side that eventually, for a variety of reasons–and your book club will want to explore these reasons with regard to each character–stops.  But, after a pause of some sort, the music starts up again, and you’re on your “B” side.  Another allusion to the record album that will get your book club talking!

You’ll want to consider how this is a book about time.  And also about time and music.  Egan says that nothing can bring you back in time like hearing a song from your past.  How are the characters relating to/ considering their pasts?  Read the epigraph and discuss how it relates to the book.  Egan says that she was heavily influenced by Marcel Proust’s Remembrance of Things Past while writing A Visit from the Goon Squad, so your more literary book club members will want to weigh in here.

Consider the title!  and discuss!  What is the “goon”?  You should have more than one interpretation of this most interesting question!

Another theme you’ll want to explore is authenticity versus artifice.  Just how much “spin” is going on in each chapter?  Ha!  Another allusion to the record album–I love it!  Many of my members found this to be a depressing topic to delve into, especially as we considered the last chapter where technology is used to an extreme to manipulate everyone’s desires–and no one seems to be aware of it.  Just how much free will do we have?  How mediated are we in our daily lives? 

This novel is very much an exploration of identity–what it is, how we acquire it, why and how we refashion it.  You can spend an entire meeting discussing this one topic.

I’m just scratching the surface (no pun intended!) in this blog post as to what your book club can discuss when it comes to this highly entertaining and deeply literary book.  One thing you can do to really “dig deep” is take one or two stories and concentrate on them.  My favorite is “Safari, ” but each one is brilliant in its own right.  Happy reading!

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